My husband, James Duft, is the programming director for our Mother Earth News Fairs, a series of hands-on celebrations of sustainable living. This year will be the first one we’ve had in Lawrence, Kansas, where we live. A couple months ago, we met for coffee and breakfast with a few of our city leaders as he started developing content plans for the Fair. It was a fortuitous meeting, because we met Ian Spomer, sales director for Cromwell Solar, which is now leasing solar panels in Lawrence. As an editor for Natural Home & Garden (now transitioned into Mother Earth Living), I had talked to and featured many people who had financed solar panels, most notably Matthew Grocoff, the host of GreenovationTV, who lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He made the good point that “most people can walk into a car dealership and walk out with a $25,000 car and financing. Yet navigating solar rebates, tax credits, incentives and financing requires an advanced degree. Investing in solar should be as easy as buying a car.” (Read about Matt's net-zero Michigan home.)
In California and many other places in the U.S., solar leasing has made investing in solar just about as easy as buying a car. Major companies such as SunRun and Sungevity have been making this opportunity available for years. But solar leasing didn’t exist in Kansas—until now. Using a solar lease, the bank owns your solar panels and leases them to you for a period of 15 years. The first step is applying for the loan. Then the company determines how much solar you’ll need by pulling your electricity bills for the past year. In our case, our south-facing roof and smallish house meant that our solar array will be able to provide 98 percent of our energy needs. If we can cut back on energy use at all, we should be able to achieve 100 percent solar.
We will make payments to the bank, which is financing the panels, which will cost less than our current electric payments. The payments go up with inflation over the years of the lease, but less than the expected cost of electricity increases. At the end of the 15-year lease period, we buy out the remaining cost of the panels—contractually not more than $1,000. Then we own them and they continue producing free energy on our roof. The panels are under warranty for 25 years.
None of this requires a down payment. The bank gets big tax credits for financing the alternative energy; we get an expensive alternative energy system with bite-size payments we can afford. Of course, you may also be in the position to take out a loan and take advantage of tax credits on your own, but for us, this was a workable solution.
I can’t tell you how excited I was to come home to solar panels covering our roof! They’re not turned on yet—we’re awaiting a final inspection by the energy company. I am so excited for the day we start producing solar power!